New Project! 1964 Dansette Pi Internet Radio

Listening to the Archers out in the countryside

This lovely Dansette portable radio is now playing the 21st century’s finest internet radio stations thanks to a loving upgrade. The centre of the tuning dial has been replaced with a bright LCD display showing the icon for the current radio station, with a convex glass bubble lens adding to the vintage aesthetic.

Eight presets to choose from

The trio of clicky little buttons on top control the power and let you skip up or down through a set of eight station presets. The dials peeping out at each corner are actually large, tactile micro-switch buttons for precisely controlling the volume.

A spacious case for once

On the inside is a Raspberry Pi, with a Pirate Audio board handling the display and amplification, and a 10,000 mAh power bank supplying plenty of juice for long summer afternoons in the garden. A simple Python script manages the playlists and channel art.

I’ve been meaning to start this project since buying the radio for £2 last October, and it turned out just as I’d planned – all the better for approaching it slowly.

For more information the project is documented on Instructables, Hackster and YouTube, and the code is all on GitHub.


Quick Build – Bang & Olufsen Pi TV

At the same time as “needing” a new PI for my workbench I also ran out of space in what has become the Old Tech storage area. It was time for something bulky to either be used or go to the tip.

The bulkiest of them all was a Bang & Olufsen TV from 1987, a Beovision MX1500.  Not a truly iconic piece but a nice design for what it was, a 15″ CRT TV. I bought it over three years ago and it’s never worked, but I still didn’t have the heart to bin it. I thought I’d give it one last chance, deciding to dismantle it and see how easy it would be to convert it.

A straightforward teardown

The teardown went swimmingly, just literally a handful of screws and the whole thing came apart. With the CRT tube and the innards removed, all that was left was a perfectly-proportioned front section.

Just the front.

Now I needed to find a replacement screen. This part you literally couldn’t make up – I grabbed an old Dell monitor, held it in place for size and  realised it was an exact fit. Not just close mind, perfect to the point that the screen was in the right position and it was held securely in place just by its own friction, no glue or fixings needed.

The Bang & Olufsen wallpaper is a nice finishing touch

It only took minutes to connect up a tucked-away Pi and a wireless keyboard, and I was left stunned that somehow I had a fancy new appliance on my workbench less than an hour after taking the cumbersome TV apart.

Compact and clean, perfect for the workbench

It just goes to show that sometimes against all odds everything just slots into place! I’d been wilfully ignoring this TV for years but it’s now one of my favourite things. And best of all I’ve cleared space for more old junk, ready for whenever we make it back to the secondhand sales.

Focus the Pi High Quality Camera Remotely!

Ever since I started messing about with the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera I’ve been trying to think of a way to focus it remotely, so that I could just pop it down in the garden and worry about focusing it later – and this weekend I cracked it!

I was sure if I found the right Lego Technic piece I’d be able to drill a hole in it and fix it to the camera lens, and a test part arrived from eBay late last week, a 60 tooth gear. Cutting a lens-sized hole in it was surprisingly easy, and it was an absolutely perfect push-fit.

The Lego compatible continuous servo works perfectly

I ordered a Lego-compatible servo from Pimoroni straightaway, and once it had arrived I spent a pleasant couple of hours rummaging for Lego pieces to make it all fit together. I was really lucky that the little servo cog and the lens cog fitted together so nicely, that could easily have been very tricky.

Testing the remote focus via Real VNC, controls on the right.

Next I made a long, thin focus button menu in GUIzero, so that it’d be visible to the side of the camera preview window, when viewed via RealVNC. This works really well, you can click the focus buttons on the side and see the effect immediately on the previewed image. The beauty of RealVNC is that it works equally well on a phone or tablet, which is extremely handy when keeping an eye on a wildlife trap in the garden.

As a proof of concept it’s a lot of fun, I can imagine adding this functionality to an existing pan/tilt camera bracket, or to a robot that needs to constantly re-focus as it moves around. Of course the best part of all was combining Lego with Raspberry Pi, two of my favourite things!

More details are on Instructables and Hackster, and the code I used for the focus and capture menus is all on GitHub.

New Project! The 1979 Merlin Pi Camera

This broken old Merlin handheld game is now a tactile, practical case for a Raspberry Pi High Quality camera.

The interchangeable camera lens peeps out from what was the battery cover on the rear, and on the front, the matrix of buttons has been replaced by a HyperPixel four inch capacitive touchscreen.

Still, video, timelapse and slow motion modes are all available on the colourful touch menu, as well as the option to bulk-upload the captured photo and video files to Dropbox.

Additional touches include a handy tripod mount in Merlin’s base, and hardware buttons to manually capture images and video.

This build was a lot of fun, the case specifically was lovely to work with, and had plenty of space for components, for once. I did destroy the battery cover and had to make a new camera mount from perspex, but otherwise things went pretty smoothly!

Full details of the project are on Instructables and Hackster, and the code for the touchscreen menu is on GitHub.

@Raspberry_Pi Projects – Assemble!

Earlier this month I pulled together all of the projects I’ve worked on so far in 2020, for a mid-year class reunion!

Say what you like about 2020, it’s not been bad for projects so far.

The idea was to see if I could get them all working at the same time for a photo opportunity. Inevitably one or two needed a tweak, but thankfully three had their own batteries, so I didn’t need to break out too many USB cables.

One quick upgrade I made is to the Tele-LED timer, it now lights up its LEDs in random colours instead of keeping them all red, and at the end of the hour it beeps like the BBC Radio “pips” instead of just monotonously.

The Tele-LED’s random colours are a lovely addition to the office.

Not all of the projects have been published at the time of writing, but the Merlin Pi camera is pretty much ready to go, I just have to finish off editing the video. That’ll be followed in July by the Dansette Pi Internet Radio and the Chiming Desk Clock, I just need to motivate myself to finish off the write-ups!

My favourite so far ? That wouldn’t be fair  – but if I whisper, it’s between the radio and the clock, they’re both so clean and simple.

For now it’s on with the next project, which involves dozens of cassette tapes, a motor and more than a few RGB LEDs – watch this space.

Half Hour Hack – a Rabbit Ears @KodiTV case

I recently repaired the wall-mounted TV in my office (capacitors again), and decided it could do with an OSMC box, so that I’d be able to easily choose a movie or some music to have on in the background while working. The plain Raspberry Pi in a case didn’t really fit in with the rest of the decor, so I decided to give it a new/old home.

Rabbit Ears Kodi Box in action.

I started by taking apart an old “rabbit ears” TV aerial, stripping out the minimal internals (I’m sure decorative aerials were and continue to be the snake-oil of TV accessories). From here I drilled some holes to secure the Raspberry Pi board…

Bolting the Pi in place

… then used a Dremel cutting disc to chop out the rear of the case, allowing the Pi to peep out.

Holes are a bit untidy, good thing that’s the back!

I also chopped out a couple of holes for the Pi’s HDMI and power cables, so that all of the leads would emerge tidily out of the rear of the case. Although the OSMC menu is controlled with an infrared remote I didn’t need to add an IR diode to this box as I’m using a USB receiver, an old Microsoft Media Center unit.

Cables are kept tucked away

I’m really pleased with the end result, and the transformation from a Pi and cables to something much more decorative took literally half an hour.

We’re in @TheMagPi Issue 94!

Rumble the cat is very excited to be featured in The MagPi this month, alongside the Apollo Pi thermal camera. He thinks this could be his big break, and is waiting by the phone for the Whiskas people to call.

Aside from the cat it’s a lovely four page feature, covering the transformation of an old microwave detector into a modern thermal camera, built with a Raspberry Pi and components from Adafruit.

It was a fun project to build and it’s a thrill as always to see it featured in the MagPi.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, Issue 94 is a right rivetin’ read, with everything you need to know about the new 8gb Raspberry Pi 4, as well as Dan Aldred’s fantastic Giant Battleships on p24 and an article about HQ camera options that I’m saving for a quiet moment.

I imagine shops still exist and are selling magazines, just in case though you can order a hard copy online or download a free .pdf version.

New Project! 1963 Tele-LED Comfort Break Reminder

This old and unusual dial-less telephone now helps well-being and productivity to co-exist in the home office! Beneath its vintage grille a neopixel ring lights up 24 LEDs in sequence over an hour, switching to an eye-catching rainbow display when it’s time to take a break.

Ignore the rainbow and the LED ring starts flashing red, accompanied by a subtle but un-ignorable beep from the phone’s original buzzer unit.

That’s about 35 minutes.

To cancel the beeping or reset the timer at any time I just need to either press the button on the phone or momentarily lift the handset – both of which force me to get up and walk across the room.

Almost break time…

This project was nice & quick, just a bit of fun really, challenging myself to build something nice for the Instructables “Work from Home Speed Challenge” – but without buying anything new. I managed to re-use an old Zip Halo and Pi 2, learned a lot about controlling RGB LEDs, and ended up with a break reminder that I actually use daily.

The write-ups are available on Instructables and Hackster as usual, and the YouTube video should be embedded above.


New Project! Apollo Pi Thermal Camera

This vintage Apollo microwave detector now has a shiny new purpose as a thermal camera, powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero with an Adafruit thermal camera sensor taking the temperatures, displaying the results in real-time on a bright 1.3″ TFT display.

It has a Preset and a Dynamic mode – in the first the colours shown on screen are based on hard-coded temperature thresholds, and in the second the colour range can be adjusted using temperature sliders on an dashboard.The dashboard also instantly displays any snapshots uploaded by the device, which are captured using the original thumb button on the grip.

The whole system is powered by a thin, cylindrical USB battery pack concealed in the hand grip, which can be easily recharged by popping off the nose cone and plugging in a USB lead.

Just three Python scripts control the menu logic, sensor and integration, with the display handled by PyGame.

Working on this project has really helped keep me positive during lockdown, and with the extra time on our hands the kids & I have found many interesting things around the house to point it at!

The write-ups are available on Instructables and Hackster, and the scripts are on GitHub as usual.

New Project! The Cassette Pi IoT Scroller

The Cassette Pi is a self-contained real-time notification scroller, all housed neatly inside a transparent cassette tape. A Raspberry Pi Zero is sandwiched between the two tape reels, retrieving Internet of Things notifications from the fabulous IFTTT service, delivered almost instantly to the Pi via an Adafruit.IO feed and a Python script. The whole cassette vibrates to alert you to the incoming notification, and the text is then scrolled clearly across a Pimoroni 11×7 LED display.

The between notifications animation represents tape movement.

Everything is powered by a 150mAh LiPo battery, connected to the Pi via a LiPo Shim – also within the cassette is an Adafruit Micro Lipo so when the battery runs low it can be plugged directly into a Micro USB power source to grab some juice.

The most fun part is that thanks to some trimming of the Pi itself, the cassette can still fit inside any vintage tape player, turning that old ornament into a functional and classy Internet of Things device.

I couldn’t resist making a tape box for it.

The Cassette Pi is perfect for use as a conference badge too, dangling from a lanyard and scrolling your name or a custom message – I hope to wear it to a Pi event or jam later this year.

“Ask me about Old Tech”

This is probably my favourite Pi project to date, everything went smoothly for once and I love the final result, it’s a very tactile little thing. It was built in a bit of a hurry so that I could enter the Instructables Raspberry Pi contest 2020 – at the time of writing the results haven’t been published but I’m hopeful of winning at least a T-shirt prize pack.

The write-up for the Cassette Pi project can be found on Hackster and Instructables, the video is on YouTube and the (questionable as ever) python script is on GitHub.

I have a feeling I may do more of these in the future!